Ye little Cornish men of old Cornwall Though ye may only stand about 2 feet tall Ye hold the magic big and small
Ye call thyself Tommy Knocker It's said that believers are off their rocker
Alongside ye work, with old cousin Jack Who knows ye always cover his back
Yer friend the Sprite so very nimble Not much bigger than a thimble.
She'll guide ye to the large ore veins So Cousin Jack finds more than grains
Ye are the king of underground Eureka ye say, look what I've found
Haunting tales of life without light Warning miners to look, be careful, take flight
Oh Tommy Knocker, Tommy Knocker, say ye be my friend So I won't be afraid to entry the tunnels again
Mining is an ancient profession and along with the back breaking work and many dangers of working in the dark underground, comes century old superstitions.
Early Cornish gold miners had a heartfelt and real belief that certain supernatural powers protected their efforts. When the hard-rock miners went underground, they believed wholeheartedly that underground elves existed. These elves were called Tommy Knockers, pronounced "knackers".
When these grizzled little gnomes were good, they were thought to bring miners favors and wealth.
These small dwarf-like creatures, often heard, rarely seen described as being little men about two feet high, dressed in miniature mining attire, complete with tiny picks, hard hats, and lunch buckets. They worked the mines, tapping away and making strange noises in the deep rocks. The name "knockers", comes from this knocking on the mine walls that often happens just before cave-ins. Actually caused by the creaking of earth and timbers, some thought these sounds of "hammering" were malevolent Knocker Clan, indicating certain death or injury, while others saw their "knocking" as a well-meaning warning to the miners that a life-threatening collapse was imminent. Still even others believed that the knocking sounds would lead them to a rich ore body and or signs of good luck
The elves that befriended the miners also watched over the miners' children. More important, they worked alongside the miners deep in the mines. The elves led miners to rich ore veins, tested shaft conditions, pried down loose rocks, and issued life-saving warnings about cave-ins, water leaks, and runaway carts by tapping on air pipes or timber supports.
The legend of the Tommyknockers evolved into the idea that the knockings were caused by dead miners who were kind enough to give warnings of danger to the living or they were the spirits of souls who hadn't been good enough to make it to heaven but hadn't been bad enough to go to hell.
Among the oldest mines in Cornwall, West of St Just at the Land's End in the ocean battered cliffs are the Ballowals (ancient tin mining maidens) who worked for tin, some say, even before the Flood. A hundred years or so ago, anyone of St Just would tell you that thousands of spirits haunted this wild and lonely place, not only knockers but also beautiful Sprite Ferries and even ugly Spriggans, who guarded the centuries' old workings of the Ballowals as well as the mineral riches and tools left behind by miners long dead and gone.
When the Tommyknockers are bad, they are believed to hurt miners who doubt their power or do not believe in them. They can also bring misery, fear and death when they are mad.
Tommy Knockers were generally considered to be friendly and helpful. But they could be vindictive if neglected or abused through disrespect. Whistling could offend them and was considered to be bad luck. Speaking badly about the knockers could also result in a series of unfortunate events. Miners would often leave offerings of food and other items in order to secure the Tommy Knockers good graces and protection.
Cornish miners came to America in the early 1800s to dig the hard rock mines and brought their superstitions with them. These miners were notable for being the most knowledgeable miners. Their superstitions earned them the name “Tommy Knockers miners".
Tommyknockers were said to be direct descendants of ancient elves known as Vugs and Piskies. After immigrating to the Gold Country, the elves became Americanized and grew to be as important to the miner as his tin lunchbox, his hard hat, carbide lamp, and double jack.
Many Cornish miners refused to enter a mine until they were assured that Tommy Knockers were on duty, providing warnings, and helpful directions.
Many Cornish miners refused to enter a mine until they were assured that Tommy Knockers were on duty, providing warnings, and helpful directions. Belief in these diminutive miners remained well into the 20th century until modern systems and education replaced these earlier superstitions. Though not much is heard of the Tommy Knockers today, they will forever have a place in our history, legend and lore.